George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) was buried in the South Transept of Westminster Abbey, at his own request, just a few days after his death in 1759. Handel had made provision for this in his will, directing his executors not to expend more than £600! His contribution to church music was largely limited to Anthems, and of course religious oratorios. However, the melody and figured bass of Rejoice, the Lord is king!
were composed by Handel, specifically for this hymn. Using one of the earliest of Charles Wesley’s vast output, a text inspired by St Paul’s admonition to the Philippians to ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway’ (Philippians 4: 4), Handel’s music conforms to Affektenlehre: the intention behind much late seventeenth- and early eighteenth- century writing that the principal role of music was to arouse the passions or affections. The well-marshalled style of this tune has an assertive, regal rhythm which lent itself to Wesley’s confident, commanding text. In subsequent decades, rhythm became very important for Methodist hymnody, and it is hard to imagine that this was not seen as some kind of prototype.
The blame for the displacement of certain syllables in this hymn should not primarily be attributed to Handel (unlike in some parts of Messiah), but ought rather be laid at Wesley’s door.
from notes by The Revd Dr James Hawkey © 2014